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Colonial Latin American Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003

Colonial Latin American Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003 “En su tierra lo aprendio´” : A

“En su tierra lo aprendio´” : A n African Curandero’s Defense before the Cartagena Inquisition

Kathryn Joy McKnight

University of New Mexico

A relacio´n or summary report sent to Spain in 1652 from the Inquisition

Tribunal in Cartagena de Indias records that a man named Mateo, a black slave

of the Arara´ caste, was brought before the Holy Office under suspicion of

sorcery and pact with the devil (Cartagena de Indias, Libro 1021, fol. 304v). Sixteen witnesses have testified to Mateo Arara´’s 1 use of a small grass object for

purposes of divination. The object is said to yield information to him by opening


closing in response to his questions. One witness reports that Mateo placed


the ground a cuernezuelo, an instrument made of the tip of an animal horn,

and spoke to it in another apparent invocation of supernatural powers, at which point the object stood itself on end. The word used in the report to name Mateo

as a suspect of working evil is moha´n, defined in the same text as “hechicero y

maestro de ellos, porque mediante palabras y yerbas por pacto con el demonio obran” [sorcerer and teacher of sorcery, because they work through a pact with the devil using words and herbs]. Neither the suspect’s identity as a black slave nor his alleged crime is unusual among the records of trials that the Holy Office held in seventeenth-century Cartagena. In a recent publication of transcribed documents, Colombian histori- ans have identified over 400 individuals who were denounced, accused, impris- oned or punished by the Cartagena Inquisition in the fifty years between 1610 and 1660 (Splendiani et al. 1997). Of these individuals, 16 percent are catego- rized in the documents as negro and 11 percent as slaves (vol. 4, app. figs. 3, 4 and 6). About 30 percent of all the accused, regardless of race, were tried for witchcraft or sorcery—brujerı´a or hechicerı´a. What is unusual in the account of Mateo Arara´’s trial are the particular narrative strategies by which this African slave tells his story in response to the interrogation, and the specificity of the symbols and transculturation with which he represents himself. After trying unsuccessfully to paint a self-portrait beyond reproach for the dogmatic eyes of the inquisitors, Mateo appears to redefine Christian subjectivity in a transcultur- ation that affirms those very African cultural religious beliefs and practices that the Church labeled as diabolical. The present paper is part of a larger project to restore pre-nineteenth-century Afro-Hispanic voices to the broad discursive fields that focus our attention in contemporary colonial literary or discourse studies. 2 Afro-Americans played vital roles in the New World, from the discovery and conquest to the construc- tion of infrastructure, the extraction, production and transportation of wealth for

1060-9164 print/1466–1802 online/03/010063-22 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd on behalf of CLAR DOI: 10.1080/1060916032000084767


Spanish colonizers and the defense of Spaniards and Creoles against piracy. If Afro-Americans did not attain a significant place among the ranks of colonial intellectuals and writers, they did occupy the colonial imagination. Images that colonizers created of blacks preyed constantly on the fears of the ruling class, as the numbers of Afro-Americans exceeded those of Spanish descent and as slaves ran away, launched armed attacks on travelers and estates and engaged in numerous rebellions. 3 These fears and realized threats motivated a great quantity of discourse, but more often on the pages of legal statutes and official reports to Spain than in chronicles, histories, poetry and theater. Still, representations of Afro-Americans appear, if briefly, in the texts of such important writers as Bartolome´ de las Casas ([1559] 1986), Guaman Poma de Ayala ([1615/16] 1980), Rodrı´guez Freyle ([1638] 1979), Sor Juana Ine´s de la Cruz ([1676] 1994) and Sigu¨enza y Go´ngora ([1692] 1984), while the Jesuit Alonso de Sandoval dedicated his extensive De Instauranda Aethiopum Salute ([1627] 1956) to what he saw as the means to salvation for African slaves. 4 How did the descendents of Africans in the Spanish colonies represent themselves in discourse to these members of lettered society—to the colonizers? To what extent did the oral and written interventions of Afro-Americans into the lettered city penetrate the minds and influence the pens of its intellectuals? How can we enrich the field of colonial studies by including their voices? While these are the broader questions that motivate my research, I see the path toward the answers in more modest studies of individual voices, in the examination of how the descendants of Africans in colonial Latin America represented themselves and colonial society through verbal discourse, particularly by telling stories about themselves.

The Inquisition as a Platform for High-Stakes Storytelling

In his requisite three hearings before the inquisitors, Mateo Arara´ crafted varying self-portraits in a series of testimonial narratives. Mateo’s inquisitors would eventually use his testimony and that of witnesses to categorize and punish him according to the type of aberration he manifested and whether his attitude towards the Church exhibited a submissive desire for reconciliation. The sen- tences generally handed down by the Cartagena Inquisition for witchcraft could be as light as a reprimand and public humiliation or as severe as life imprison- ment, including time as a galley oarsman. Those who were convicted lost their personal possesions and often suffered 100–200 lashes of the whip and tempo- rary or permanent exile from the diocese or from the entire Nuevo Reino de Granada. 5 Caught in the secrecy of the Inquisition’s process, not knowing the exact charges he faced, Mateo de Arara´ must have tried to imagine the particular content of the denunciations to determine what was at stake. How could he best talk about himself to simultaneously satisfy the inquisitors’ desire for a full confession and at the same time strive for self-preservation? The Inquisition in the Spanish colonies constituted an arena in which opposing groups struggled to determine individual destinies and to define how society saw itself and its norms of acceptable behavior and belief. The Tribunal of the Holy Office served an important role in mediating relationships between the coloniz-




ing powers, political enemies and members of culturally subordinated groups,

developing techniques to exercise pyscho-social control over those who proved

a constant threat to colonial domination because they struggled for self-

preservation and cultural self-definition. 6 These subordinated groups included blacks and members of the mixed-race casta society—mulatos, mestizos and zambos 7 —but not Amerindians, who had been exempted from the Inquisition’s jurisdiction since before the Cartagena tribunal’s 1610 inception. 8 This insti- tution dedicated to protecting a collective interest—ostensibly the purity of the faith, but in real terms also the domination of the colonizers over the colo- nized—sought to create self-disciplined subjects by defining the terms of the conflict. If African and Amerindian beliefs and practices posed threats to Catholic hegemony, the Tribunal took these threats and turned them back against the provocateurs, transforming them discursively into warnings of supernatural punishment for the aberrant individual. To defy the dominant culture by believing in gods other than the one true Christian God meant to risk one’s own eternal damnation. People of African descent—negros, mulatos and zambos—made up about 30 percent of those prosecuted by the Cartagena Inquisition. Their crimes against the faith included explicit confrontational rejection of the dominant religious culture as well as the implicit rejection of Catholic absolutism comprehended in

maintaining traditional and transculturated popular religious practices. With few exceptions, Afro-Americans who were prosecuted by the Inquisition had blas- phemed or renounced God or had engaged in practices the Church categorized as hechicerı´a (sorcery) or brujerı´a (witchcraft). Many of the cases involving blasphemy or reniegos (renunciation) came about when slaves cried out against

a cruel beating, either renouncing the master’s belief system or attempting to win the intervention of the Inquisition and thus gain a hearing for their complaints against their masters (Alberro 1977, 150–51). Hechicerı´a and brujerı´a involve more complex relationships with Catholic culture and directly concern the charges against Mateo de Arara´. Space limita- tions preclude a full discussion of the two terms and the phenomena they name, but a brief distinction will help to set the stage for the discussion of Mateo’s narrative defense against the charges he faces: suspicion of being a sorcerer— moha´n or hechicero—and of having worked through a pact with the devil. 9 Diana Luz Ceballos Go´mez explains the distinction between the application of the terms hechicerı´a and brujerı´a in the context of the Nuevo Reino de Granada

(1994, 86–90). Hechicerı´a is an accusation leveled at an individual; it pertains

to the use of spells and remedies for both negative and positive purposes and

often involves the use of natural materials. Under this category would fall the widespread practices of amatory magic, to which all three matrix cultures contributed—Spanish, Amerindian and African. Brujerı´a, on the other hand, is

a charge that identifies and stigmatizes a socially defined group. It points to sects

of witches who—at least at the level of the inquistors’ imagination—gather to

practice diabolical idolatry. In the New World as in the Old, this charge draws heavily on the archetypal European witches’ sabbath to which witches fly after applying hallucinogenic substances to their skin and where they engage in ritual orgy and infanticide in the presence of a goat-devil. In the Nuevo Reino de



Granada, the charge of brujerı´a was specifically leveled against people of African descent; of the 33 cases of brujerı´a tried by the Cartagena Inquisition between 1610 and 1650 and documented in the accounts preserved in the Archivo Histo´rico Nacional (Madrid), 19 involve negros, 11 mulatos, two mestizos and one a zamba; there are no white Europeans prosecuted under this charge (Splendiani et al. 1997, 4: “Indice de reos”). Ceballos Go´ mez (1994) has found no cases of brujerı´a in the Cartagena Inquisition after 1650, and she explains this as a product of the diminished belief in brujerı´a on the part of Spanish and thus, too, the Spanish American inquisitors, but also as an effect of colonizers having learned much more about the religious and magical practices of Indians and Afro-Americans and thus distinguishing them from European brujerı´a. Mateo de Arara´’s trial in 1652 postdates the last charges of brujerı´a in Cartagena and offers a unique glimpse into that moment of transition in the inquisitor’s imagining of their African Others. In sharp contrast to the trials of the 1620s and 1630s of “witches” from Cartagena, Tolu´ and Zaragoza, Mateo de Arara´ is not forced into archetypal confessions of witchcraft and, instead, provides a fascinating glimpse into transculturated practices that draw heavily from African—or, specifically, West African Arara´—training. At the same time, his testimony demonstrates that he still must respond to the inquisitors’ residual fears of diabolical idolatry linked to ritual magic. Mateo’s testimony speaks of African healing and ritual practices that are generally difficult to discern in Spanish colonial records. Only three other negros whose trials are recorded in the 1610–1660 accounts testify to similar practices. Francisco Mandinga, an African-born yerbatero and herbolario, 10 who needs an interpreter in his trial because he is muy bozal (not acculturated), cures with spells and venoms (Cartagena de Indias, Libro 1021, fols. 176r–77r, 233v, 246r–v). Domingo Lo´pez, a free black man, like Mateo, uses a cuernezuelo or small animal horn in divination (Cartagena de Indias, Libro 1021, fols. 303r–4v, 319v–20r, 337r–39v, 385r–86r). Isabel, a black slave from Angola, uses herbs and stones to cure and to divine, and communicates with the devil in the form of a snake (Cartagena de Indias, Libro 1021, fols. 408r–10r). Of the four cases, all tried between 1648 and 1654, Mateo’s testimony gives the most detailed picture of healing practices; he is the only one of the four to describe the initiation ritual in which he became a healer, and his narrative strategies of self-defense are the most complex. There is another non-African defendant in Cartagena whose case also may throw light on one of the charges leveled against Mateo, that of moha´n, though the case raises more questions than it answers. The famous mestizo moha´n Luis Andrea was tried in Cartega in 1614. He testified that he received his powers from an uncle and grandfather and he used them in ritual gatherings of Indians on the Cerro de la Popa in Cartagena, where he invoked the “demon” Buciraco and healed illnesses using herbs. Virginia Gutie´rrez de Pineda and Patricia Vila de Pineda identify the function of the moha´n in the Nuevo Reino de Granada with those of a shaman; the moha´n was an intermediary between human beings and the supernatural; he divined and healed; he was a leader who directed rituals, mediated social relationships and exercised political and military power (1985,




13–26). The sacred hill called Cerro de la Popa, where Luis Andrea carried out his activities as a moha´n, is curiously associated with both runaway slaves and Indian cults in Colombian oral traditions as announced today in Cartagena tourist information. 11 The accusation against Andrea states that he had an express pact with the devil, worshipped him and thus was guilty of apostasy, that is of separating himself from the Catholic Church (Cartagena, Inquisicio´n 1020, 3r). While Mateo Arara´’s testimony portrays his work of divining and healing clearly within the concept of the shamanic moha´n, there is no information to suggest that he played a broader role of cultural leader. Yet this dual association of a Cartagena sacred place with both Indian and African worship and with a moha´n suggests that there is more to the charge of moha´n leveled against Mateo Arara´ than is explicit in the relacio´n. Perhaps the inquisitors feared that Mateo, like Luis Andrea before him, was involved in a leadership that fed anti-Spanish sentiment. 12 When Mateo Arara´ appears before the inquisitors, he must either confess fully and throw himself submissively on the mercy of the court or he must successfully narrate a self-portrait that negates the charges of moha´n and of pact with the devil. The latter course implies also a denial of the more general subjectivities of heretic and apostate within which these charges are under- stood—a heretic who denies or contradicts Catholic doctrine, and an apostate who abandons the Christian faith for an idolatrous sect. I argue, below, that although Mateo cannot know the charges or testimony against him, he under- stands sufficiently the cultural and social situation he faces—the exclusion of his African practices and beliefs from Catholic orthodoxy and the Inquisition’s techniques of control—that he undertakes a calculated response in his choices of self-representation. His testimony deploys narrative and symbolic strategies whose meaning speaks to self-preservation by molding a subjectivity within Catholic beliefs in God, the Virgin Mary and the fundamental Christian opposition of good and evil. But when pressed to the wall and shown that his beliefs have been identified as aberrant, Mateo’s testimony changes, and he affirms an identity and role founded on Arara´ knowledge of illness and practices of healing. Mateo Arara´’s initial strategy is concealment. The information he gives during the first hearing shows him as a good Christian and hides any African religious Otherness. This dissimulation fails to address key elements of the denunciations and thus does not satisfy the inquisitors. Mateo’s testimony at his second hearing admits to certain aberrant practices, but frames them within Christian beliefs and aims. His third hearing provides the most interesting symbolic narratives of the trial, in which I propose that he redefines his oppositional practices and beliefs to create a transculturated self, which affirms core elements of his Arara´ identity, but maintains a claim for Christian acceptability. He mani- pulates Christian signs of faithfulness, reframes African symbols and rites in terms of a dualistic opposition between good and evil absent among African deities and tells a richly polysemous tale of initiation as healer. The tale melds Arara´, Chibcha and Christian meanings into an ambiguous symbolism and indirectly addresses the term moha´n under which his prosecution has been justified.



Mediated Testimony

Inquisition trial documents provide only mediated voices of the defendants, as their testimony is recorded by court notaries or scribes. These recorders were instructed to use the third person in copying the testimony, but they were also to allow the person testifying to speak freely without interruption, and they were to write down everything he or she said, except those things that did not relate to the trial (Valde´s [1561] 1924, 412, 415; ch. 15, 32). The faithfulness of the transcriptions, if more in content than in precise verbal expression, is attested to by the great detail of the trial dossiers called procesos and by the requisite ratification of each transcription by the witnesses after hearing their testimony read. On rare occasions a colloquial expression suggests that a scribe has recorded the exact words of a witness, especially where the witness offers the words of another person as evidence, but generally the relationship between the witness’s language and that of the document is unclear. In the case of Mateo Arara´, two additional layers of mediation separate the reader from the spoken words. Firstly, Mateo’s command of Spanish is sufficiently limited that a ladino or acculturated African of his own caste acts as interpreter. Secondly, the extant documents are relaciones or reports sent to Spain, rather than the detailed transcriptions of the procesos. A significant part of the archives of the Cartagena Inquisition has been lost, including many of the procesos (Splendiani et al. 1997, 2 31). The absence of two important sets of documents—the testimonies of denunciation and the formal accusation— pose a significant obstacle to analysis of Mateo’s strategies. These documents would have revealed the information the inquisitors were seeking in Mateo’s confession and their working interpretation of his “aberrant” subjectivity. Unfortunately, the proceso of Mateo’s trial has not survived either in Colom- bia or in the Archivo Histo´rico Nacional de Madrid, where several procesos of Afro-Americans are preserved. 13 Despite the multi-layered mediation, there are elements of narrative structure and symbol whose internal coherence as well as their relationships to the cultural contexts of West Africa and the Nuevo Reino provide strong evidence and compelling detail of Mateo’s strategic self-fashioning. Mateo Arara´ was born in Africa. Although the denomination “Arara´” as it was used in the New World context does not precisely identify ethnicity or origin, it strongly suggests that Mateo was born among the Ewe-Fon-speaking peoples who lived in what is today Benin, possibly in the southern kingdom of Allada. 14 The inquisitors give the information that he is the slave of the deceased Captain Juan de Heredia, resident of Cartagena (Cartagena, Inquisi- tion, Libro 304v–5r). The actions for which he is prosecuted, though, took place in a mining area, probably near Mompox, a city on the Rı´o Magdalena, about 100 miles southeast of Cartagena. This location is interesting for the high degree of the racial and cultural zambaje of African slaves and indige- nous women that was forged along the Rı´o Magdalena, a cultural mix that might explain symbolic aspects of Mateo’s final testimony. 15




First Hearing: 26 September 1651

Mateo Arara´ was imprisoned by the Inquisition on 6 September 1651, in Cartagena. The record of his first hearing, on 26 September, is brief. After identifying the suspect, summarizing the testimonies against him and recording the date of his imprisonment, the scribe reports briefly Mateo’s initial testimony:

Dijo que sabı´a curar desde que estaba en su tierra y que no le ensen˜o´ nadie, ni del conocimiento de las yerbas, porque e´l de su cabeza lo deprendio´ y nombro´ muchas yerbas y raı´ces de que usaba y para sanar mordeduras de culebras venenosas. Y no dio razo´n de la esterilla y en este estado esta´ esta causa. (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 305r, emphasis mine)

[He said that he had known how to heal since the time when he lived in his own land and that no one had taught him, nor had they taught him a knowledge of herbs, because he learned it from his own head and he named many herbs and roots that he used to heal venemous snake bites. And he did not give information about the little mat and this is the current state of his cause.]

It is unclear in the summary which part of the testimony comprised Mateo’s initial presentation of himself—when he answered the requisite question of whether he knew why he had been brought before the Inquisition—and what information he gave in response to specific follow-up questioning. Despite the unknowns, three aspects of his self-representation appear strategic when com- pared with later testimonies. Firstly, Mateo limits his characterization of the practices under scrutiny to herbalism. Noemı´ Quezada found in the archives of the Inquisition of New Spain that curanderos or folk healers enjoyed a certain degree of tolerance. Their healing practices—a syncretism of Spanish, Indian and African folk medicines—were needed by a society whose few medical doctors could only inadequately treat the elite population (1991, 37). Virginia Gutie´rrez de Pineda and Patricia Vila de Pineda note a similar need for folk healers in the Nuevo Reino de Granada (1985, 55). It was when the curanderos’ practices manifested a belief in supernatural assistance that the Inquisition became concerned (Quezada 1991, 52). Perhaps seeking the greater safety of the label of curandero, Mateo fills his testimony with the names of herbs and roots that he used for healing, and carefully avoids mention of the esterilla. It is his use of this esterilla, as described in the denunciations, that would be seen as invoking supernatural assistance, specifically that of the devil. Secondly, Mateo clarifies that his knowledge of healing pre-dates his arrival in the Nuevo Reino de Granada. He thus distances himself from the charge of moha´n, a word that names the specialized Indian religious function that the Inquisition equates with idolatry or devil worship. Thirdly, Mateo implies that his knowledge of healing is innate—“no le ensen˜o´ nadie” [no one taught him]—an idea he makes explicit in his second hearing, saying that he drew this virtue from his mother’s womb:

“esta virtud saco´ de la barriga de su madre” (Cartagena, Libro 1021, 340r). It would seem that Mateo extricates his identity as herbalist from either an Amerindian or African (i.e. non-Christian) belief system and thus from associ- ation with demonolatry. If Mateo Arara´’s knowledge of Spanish is limited, the



same cannot be said for his understanding of the Inquisition’s techniques in the discernment of aberration. 16

Second Hearing: 7 February 1652

At his second hearing, four and a half months later, Mateo addresses his use of the divining tool described in the denunciations as an esterilla or small straw

mat. His interpreter now refers to the instrument primarily as an escobita or little broom. 17 Mateo’s testimony in this second hearing centers on his divining and healing activities during a trip his master forced him to make four years before

to a gold mine southeast of Cartagena. The teniente of Mompox, a man named

Saavedra, had requested Mateo’s help. Perhaps the inquisitors asked Mateo to address his use of the escobita on this trip or perhaps he realized that the public knowledge of these activities would be the most likely cause of his interrogation. If Mateo, now, feels compelled to address the sensitive question of the divining tool in a practice that Inquisition suspects to be an invocation of the

devil’s powers, he also seeks to legitimate and authorize his activity in terms that the inquisitors might accept. My analysis assumes that Mateo exercises greater narrative control over this first portion of the testimony than in his later answers

to the inquisitors’ specific probing questions. Key elements in Mateo’s self-rep-

resentation include the coercive and approving role of colonial authorities over his actions as a reluctant healer, the beneficial nature of his actions, his antagonistic relationship to evil-doers and his affirmation of Christian beliefs. Mateo’s narrative begins by reiterating the earlier deculturated version of his healing activities: he created the broom by his own knowledge after arriving in the Nuevo Reino de Granada, and did so in order to identify herbs that would heal, that would work for good. He is so concerned with separating himself from

any cultural practice that he expresses his independent invention of the practices

in three ways:

Habiendo venido a estos reinos, e´l propio de su cabeza hizo una escobita de hojas de palma y […] la ato´ por los cabos y […] por arriba quedo´ dividida en dos partes como brazos y […] esta escobita hizo para conocer la[s] yerbas buenas y malas para curar a los cristianos y […] nadie le ensen˜o´ a hacer dicha escobita, sino que e´l la hizo por su propio parecer. (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 340r, emphasis mine)

[Having come to these realms, he himself with his own head made a little broom of palm leaves and […] he tied its ends and […] at the top it was divided in two arm-like parts and […] he made this little broom in order to know the good herbs from the bad in order to heal Christians and […] no one taught him how to make the said broom, but rather he created it from his own ideas.]

When Mateo was called on to heal the sick slaves belonging to Teniente Saavedra, he proved reluctant, perhaps not so much to heal as to enter the

perilous terrain of using non-Spanish practices in the presence of Spaniards or white Creole men. Mateo points out, however, that as a slave he had no choice.


Mompox official named Saavedra wrote to his master requesting that Mateo




be sent to cure the many ill negros that he had. So, his master forced him to go and they took him to Morocı´, a gold mine belonging to one Juan Abad. The approving presence of several men who embody colonial authority—Mateo’s master Juan de Heredia, the Mompox deputy Saavedra, the mine owner Juan Abad and several unnamed priests—legitimates his actions and displaces re- sponsibility for them from Mateo onto these authorities (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 340r). The venue of Mateo’s activities gave additional legitimacy to his actions. Mining provided a primary economic base for the Nuevo Reino throughout much of the colonial period, and it was African slaves who carried out most of this work in the Cauca and Rı´o Magdalena valleys and in Antioquia (West 1975, 98–99). Disease and mortality among slaves in the mines were significant problems and a threat to the colony’s economic success. Mine owners went to some expense to combat illness, obtaining special foods and medicines, which included medieval remedies (102). In the larger picture, Mateo had been brought to Juan Abad’s mine to use his rare gifts and knowledge to uphold the economic and political power of the colonial elite. In explaining these gifts, however, Mateo must face the the significant difficulty posed by the divining broom because of its unorthodox origins and the inquisitors’ interpretation of its use as animated through a pact with the devil. Mateo recounts that he was first taken to Juan Abad’s dwellings so that he could find out whether there were any yerbateros among the blacks there. According to his testimony, yerbatero or “herbalist” is the name given to those who use herbs for malevolent ends. Before Mateo will concede to using his divining powers, he insists on hearing mass. After mass, the negros are gathered and he goes to work, but with no luck. So, everyone returns to the mine, where they gather the black miners in a circle:



ste se puso sentado en medio e hizo traer una batea y echar en ella una botija

de vino y que fuesen todos los negros bebiendo un poco y que luego saco´ de su mochila la escobita y tenie´ndola en las manos con mucha confianza en la Virgen Marı´a y Nuestro Sen˜or Jesucristo, comenzo´ a jurar con dicha escobita y un congolo´n esto es una calabacita pequen˜a que tenı´a atado a ella, si habı´a negro yerbatero y […] la escobita se volvio´ de una parte a otra y cuando volvio´ al lado derecho mostraba que un negro que estaba junto a e´l era yerbatero y para certificarse lo hizo por tres veces y a la tercera dijo co´mo aquel negro era yerbatero y se llamaba Ventura Anchico. (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 340r)

[This man [Mateo] sat down in the middle of the circle and had a shallow dish brought and he poured into it a pitcher of wine and had all the negros drink

a little and then he took his little broom out of his bag and holding it in his

hands, trusting very much in the Virgin Mary and Our Lord Jesus Christ, he began with the said broom and a congolo´n, which is a small gourd that he had tied to it, to ask whether there was a black yerbatero there and […] the broom moved from one side to the other and when it moved to the right it showed that a black man who was next to him was a yerbatero and to certify this result, he did it three times and on the third time he said that that black man named Ventura Anchico was a yerbatero.]

The ritual Mateo has just described is shamanistic, probably African in origin,



but he tries to legitimate it with the invocation of Christian icons. He uses the instrument to get to the root of a problem—to identify the working of the enemy of the Christian God—the heretical yerbatero who has harmed his fellow workers and has thus attacked the Christian mine owner’s property and threat- ened his well-being. After identifying the cause of the illness, Mateo cures the black men with infusions of bark, sugar water and other herbs and with the twig of the orejo´n plant tied to a small cross. The ill are cured after vomiting up bones, hairs and feathers. Again, Mateo seeks Christian legitimacy by mention- ing that he has also healed two priests at Morocı´. To approach an understanding of Mateo’s own conception of the escobita’s operation, I have consulted sources on Dahomean and Yoruba religious prac- tices, two related belief systems that dominated the general area of West Africa identified with the Arara´ slaves (Herskovits and Herskovits 1933; Feraudy Espino 1993 and Verger 1995). 18 Heriberto Feraudy Espino describes the practices of Yoruba babalawos, the priests or diviners of Ifa´ who seek to gather information and to know the future (1993, 162–63). While none of the instru- ments this researcher describes works exactly as Mateo’s escobita, they seem to share its operating principle, in which information is obtained through a combination of the diviner’s spoken word and a reading of the movement or final position of the manipulated object. 19 Both Feraudy Espino, who discusses divination, and Pierre Fatumbi Verger (1995), who studies the healing uses of plants, explain the role of the Ifa´ in these religious activities. The Ifa´ is an oral corpus of systematic religion and philosophy, divided into 256 odu. A divining instrument leads the diviner or herbalist to the odu in which the desired information or remedy can be identified (Feraudy Espino 1993, 140; Verger 1995, 19). The oral pronunciation of words in or related to the use of the odu is seen in itself as powerful. Mateo’s oral addressing of the escobita may relate to an oral tradition such as the Ifa´ and to the belief in the magical power of the spoken word. Herskovits and Herskovits describe a similar use of objects called gbo or “charms” in Dahomey religious practices; these authors explain that each gbo “derives its potency from the supernatural power called upon to animate it” (Herskovits and Herskovits 1933, 64). Such animation by a spirit would seem to be the hidden conception behind Mateo’s assertion that his escobita sought out the yerbatero who had caused the miners’ illness. That Mateo believed the slaves’ illness was caused by another human being—one who had invoked a spirit to accomplish the evil—also finds resonance in Afro-American beliefs (Ortiz 1973, 91). The inquisitors interrogate Mateo further. They ask about the origin of his knowledge of herbs. He explains that the escobita tells him which are good herbs and which are bad by opening and closing in response to his questions. He identifies the powders in a gourd attached to the escobita as coming from the ariajua tree that grows in Cartagena, and says that this herb cures stomach aches and phlegm and should be taken with wine. Once again, he insists that no one has given him any of this information. When the inquisitors press him on the delicate question of who exactly moves the escobita, he gives them more suspect information: it is the escobita that moves itself. He does not mention animation




by a deity or spirit. He does, however, tell of a ceremony that enables the escobita to work, a ceremony that would remit the inquisitors to African cultural practices: before using the escobita, he took a chicken, slit its throat and sprinkled its blood on the instrument, after which he covered it with contrayer- bas so that it could move by itself. Quickly, he adds that he did all of this with a clean heart. He also clarifies, when asked, that the small cross he tied to the orejo´n stick he placed there in the name of God (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 340v). These attempts by Mateo to link his use of the divining instrument to his Christian faith and good works, however, would not have convinced his inquisitors or the experts they later consulted of his orthodoxy. The sixteenth- century Spanish demonologist Pedro Ciruelo (1530) insists that no matter how deep their conviction, “those who claimed the power to mediate with God or other members of the Heavenly Host […] would only succeed in contacting the Devil” (Thornton 1988, 276). Clergy of the time insisted that only ordained priests could mediate between human needs and God or the saints.

Third Hearing: 16 March 1652

At his third hearing, Mateo Arara´ makes a significant break from his earlier statements, but only after he has heard the complete accusation that has been leveled against him. It is this written accusation, which has been lost, that would have held important clues why Mateo makes such a radical turn in his narrative strategy. In this third hearing, he pours out a story of a clearly transculturated African and Catholic religious practice and completes his testimony with a fascinating tale of initiation as a healer, which begs reading as a story of a deeply transculturated and ambiguous symbolism. The first of Mateo’s two stories in this final hearing recounts a new instance of healing. He tells that while he was still at the Morocı´ mine he healed a young black boy by making a cross out of twigs and placing it over the door of the hut where the boy and his mother lived. Then he had a chicken brought and he explained that if the chicken died the boy would live, but if the chicken lived the boy would die. He performed a ritual cleansing on the boy with the chicken:

Mateo had the mother hold the chicken over the boy’s head while Mateo commended the boy to God, invoking the Holy Trinity and pleading with God and the Virgin Mary to enable him to cure the boy. As the mother held the chicken, Mateo pronounced the words “Yo quiero muchacho llevabas pollo” [I want the boy, you took away the chicken]. These words he addressed to the devil, worshiping God all the while. The chicken died and Mateo sent someone to throw it into a ravine. This done, the boy recovered (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 340v–41r). To the inquisitors, this ceremony would have seemed at best a misuse of the names of God and the Virgin, a practice associated with witchcraft and prosecuted in Spain and the New World alike. 20 At worst, it would appear a diabolical fetishism, indicative of idolatry. Feraudy Espino (1993, 147), Her- skovits and Herskovits (1933, 40–42) and Ortiz (1973, 77) all discuss the importance of chickens and roosters in ceremonies and sacrifices to West African gods. One particular deity who especially favors chickens in sacrifice is



Legba—also known by the names Eshu, Esu´ and Elegbara, among others. He is the trickster god who can rob fate of its victims, as perhaps is implicit in Mateo’s ceremony to cure the young boy. Alternative African interpretations of healing ceremonies may include the use of the chicken as a gbo to divine whether the sick boy will live or die (Herskovits and Herskovits 1933, 62) or the use of the animal as an embo´ into which Mateo seeks the transfer of the demon of the illness (Ortiz 1973, 91). Why does Mateo take the risk at this point to give such self-damning testimony? It is important to note, here, that the accusations leveled during Inquisition trials closely resemble a pastiche of the witnesses’ testimony, with identifying names expunged. When Mateo recounts this story, he knows at the very least that he is being accused of the acts named in the initial relacio´n—that he is a moha´n or sorcerer and teacher of sorcery, who works through a pact with the devil, using words, herbs, an esterita or escobita and a cuernezuelo. Did one of the denunciations mention this or a related healing using a chicken and thus lead him to confess the incident? Did the apparent omniscience and omnipotence of the inquisitors—suggested in the detailed accusations—overwhelm Mateo and compel him to tell all? Or did he see that if all was now known by the inquisitors, he must at least reinterpret his actions, showing them to be consistent with Christian beliefs? Though West African religions do not turn on the same dualist axis as Christianity, Mateo insists that he belongs to the hosts of good in the fundamental Christian struggle between good and evil. His evidence includes the success of the healing ceremony and his use of the cross and prayers to a Christian God. He did, after all, side with God in speaking to the devil in terms of rejection and triumph, somewhat as a priest might do in an exorcism: “Yo quiero muchacho llevabas pollo,” perhaps meaning, “I want the boy healed; you take and kill the chicken.” Asked once again who taught him to heal in this manner, Mateo now tells a story that will belie all previous efforts at characterizing his knowledge as innate. In a story unlike any he has told so far, he layers a complex and ambiguous symbolism, which allows readings of African, Amerindian and Christian mean- ings, while affirming the fundamental goodness of his being. While Mateo explicitly places the ritual in Africa, the ceremony itself resonates most strongly with the practices and myths of the Chibcha or Muisca cultures of northern South America. Mateo’s framing of the ritual also reiterates the Christian transculturation he has maintained throughout his confessions, both negatively in the naming of the devil rather than a non-Christian deity and positively in the clear choice of good over evil. The most puzzling and most exciting symbolic elements of the narrative are a river spirit, which he describes as a mula (mule), and a process of selection during which the initiates confront possible death in the depths of the still river. Mateo’s layering of Christian meaning onto the Chibcha symbolism of the water remits also to Christian baptism, creating a transculturated and highly ambivalent text. A study of West African initiation rites, the Colombian moha´n, Chibcha mythology and Christian baptismal sym- bolism poses provocative possibilities. Mateo locates his initiation rite in Africa: “en su tierra lo aprendio´” [he learned it in his land]. His explanation that his maternal uncle was the healer in




a king’s house suggests both a concept of inheritance of the role and an assertion of significant social position, one that Mateo has at least partially lost in

slavery: 21 “Y siendo preguntado que quie´n le ensen˜o´ este modo de curar, dijo que en su tierra lo aprendio´, que se lo ensen˜o´ un tı´o suyo, hermano de su madre, que se llamaba Soo y curaba en casa del rey” [And having been asked who taught him this method of healing, he said that he learned it in his land, that his uncle taught him, his mother’s brother, whose name was Soo and who healed in the king’s house] (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 341r). Mateo’s story suggests pride, as he carefully explains his successful passage through the initiation, built on his truthfulness and his intention to assume the responsibilities of a positive social role to do good through healing: “los que ası´ curan en su tierra van a un rı´o que llaman de la Madalena, que no corre y allı´ hacen juramento que si no curaren para hacer bien queden muertos en aquel rı´oysi curaren bien salgan libres; y […] se ahogan algunos y va un buso y los saca y […] alla´ no conocen

a Dios y ası´ aquel juramento lo hacen al diablo” [those in his land who heal in

this way go to a still river called the Madalena, and there they take an oath that

if they are not to use their healing powers for good they will die in that river and

if they are to use their powers for good, they will come out of the river free; and

[…] some drown and a diver goes in and pulls them out. They do not know God there, so they make their oath to the devil] (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 341r). The ceremony itself resembles none I have yet encountered in my initial research into Dahomean/Yoruba or Muisca rituals, though it shares with them elements of symbolic meaning. 22 Mateo tells that before beginning his work as

a healer he went to this great river and declared his oath that with his powers

he would not harm anyone or induce natural calamities, that he would neither prevent the rain from falling nor make worms eat the fruit crops. After his declaration, a thing like a mule came out of the river depths. The mule swept him far into the river and then returned him to the shore, in proof that he swore truthfully. After this initiation, Mateo followed his uncle and carried the objects he used for healing and he learned to heal and to divine with the esterilla (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 341r). Both Herskovits and Herskovits (1933, 40) and Zuesse (1979, 144) discuss ritual ordeals in which an initiate passes through a symbolic death. Zuesse delves more deeply into examples of this experience in which the ritual death includes physical and psychological stresses, endowed with meaning through the sym- bolic structure of the ritual and the explicit messages of dramatic enactment and song. The process of initiation “destroys this self-centered world of childhood” and incorporates the new self into an outwardly focused communal role, which belongs to a transcendent order (Zuesse 1979, 145). Since priestly training in West Africa can begin as early as the age of seven, it is quite possible that the younger self Mateo describes was a child, who still saw the world in a self-centered concern for its impact on his own being. 23 His symbolic death of

near-drowning in the ritual brings him into a significant, outwardly focused role of healing that gives his new identity a place in a transcendent order; his new practices will involve relationships with the ancestral spirits or deities. But what of this unmoving river called the Magdalena? Neither Dahomean nor Yoruba traditions provide satisfactory explanations for the location of Mateo’s



ritual in a body of water, particularly when one notes that he calls it by a Christian name. 24 In contrast, the fateful trip that led to Mateo’s imprisonment by the Inquisition offers a persuasive explanation of the name, since this trip took him to a mining area near Mompox, most likely by way of the Rı´o Magdalena. 25 There are compelling reasons why Mateo’s lived experience in the Nuevo Reino de Granada—particularly in and around the Rı´o Magdalena—may have led him to incorporate into the initiation experience a body of water in which he faces death. The colonial reality of encounters with natural waters in the Nuevo Reino de Granada made them a place befitting of such dangerous significance as that of the near-death ritual. Two types of labor in which slaves were employed brought them into dangerous waters. Gold mining in colonial times was placer mining, which involved sluicing, panning and diving into auriferous waters, while la boga was the exhausting work of conveying boats up and down the rivers—particularly along the colonial umbilical cord of the Magdalena—by means of long poles. This work was first carried out by Indians to satisfy colonial tributes, but later by black slaves and then by the free zambo offspring of slave men and indigenous women. While the trial reports do not specify Mateo’s own occupation, it is clear that he had come into contact with men who worked in both occupations. If waters endangered men’s lives, a healer might seek protection from such dangers in a tutelary water spirit. More important is the sacred significance of the waters of the Chibcha territories in their creation myths. These sacred waters are related to the word used to name Mateo’s suspect role—moha´n. Juan Rodrı´guez Freyle describes the indigenous mohanes as guardians of the sanctuaries and altars of the devil, suggesting a priestly function (1979, 38). He also points out that the devil was worshipped principally in five places, all natural bodies of water, highland lakes:

Guatavita, Guasca, Siecha, Teusaca´ and Ubaque. In Chibcha mythology, the high Andean lakes are sacred places of offering. They are, together, the uterus of Mother Earth and the place from which Bachue´, the mother of humanity, emerged to populate the earth, also the doorways of communication with the feminine underworld of the earth. 26 Jose´ Rozo Guata interprets Chibcha myth and ritual to hold all natural waters as objects of religious cult—lakes, pools, and rivers, “especialmente en los lugares donde e´stos se encajonaban formando grandes pozos o se despen˜aban” [especially in the places where these were boxed in and formed great holes or they hurtled over the edge of a cliff] (1997, 54). The “grandes pozos” or “great holes” sound much like Mateo’s still river. Miguel Triana ([1921] 1970) relates much more detailed information, depending primarily on the chronicles of Fray Pedro Simo´n (1627) and Juan Rodrı´guez Freyle ([1638] 1979). Simo´n’s chronicle, particularly, shows a religious symbolism of water that infuses Chibcha ceremonies, marking several major life transitions, including birth, puberty and the consecration of Chibcha priests through sacred baths of purification in the lakes (Triana [1921] 1970, 60–63). The legend of El Dorado unites these religious ablutions with sacrificial offerings. In the legend, the sovereign of Guatavita was taken out onto the lake on a raft, together with an offering of religious objects forged from gold. After the offering was thrown into the icy waters, the sovereign himself dove into the icy waters to purify his body. The Bahue´ creation myth augments




the awe-inspiring meanings of the lakes. When this goddess of creation and her husband grew old, they returned to their lake of origin transformed into large snakes. This symbol of the snake as patron of the lakes has persisted in the popular imagination for centuries (Triana [1921] 1970, 67). The ritual Mateo describes resonates with these Chibcha practices and myths. His mula who lives in the depths of the river is, like Bachue´ in serpentine form, an awesome deity, but one who affirms humanity. Locating the shamanistic initiation in the still waters of the formidable Magdalena or its swampy surroundings evokes the fear appropriate in an encounter with death capable of winnowing good from evil. In the mula’s power to select those initiates who are good and truthful and send them out to heal in the world, this being echoes the positive or fruitful qualities attributed to Bachue´ in her parting exhortation to humankind to live in peace with one another and to keep the laws that she has brought them (Triana [1921] 1970, 67). If it is local practice or belief that informs Mateo’s initiation ritual, then perhaps before he can go out into the world as a healer he must return to a transcendent womb, face death and be reborn. Still, this selecting out of good from evil seems a Christian modification; both Colombian and West African shamans are capable of working evil as well as good in spells against individuals or in controlling the natural forces. 27 Why, though, does the novitiate Mateo swear his pledge to the devil—“que alla´ no conocen a Dios y ası´ aquel juramento lo hacen al diablo” [that there they do not know God and so they swear to the devil] (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 341r, emphasis mine)? The word “que” [that] identifies the statement as Mateo’s through the initial “dijo que” [he said that] of the testimony. What actual word—in Spanish or his own language—did Mateo use, here, to name the devil and what did he mean? Did he name a Chibcha deity? Did he speak of an oath to Legba or Esu´, the West African messenger of the deities, who tricks fate and is associated with Ifa´, healing, protection and divination (Herskovits and Her- skovits 1933, 60; Feraudy Espino 1993, 176)? Did he use the Spanish word diablo or demonio or did the translator turn an African or Amerindian name into that of the devil for the inquisitors’ comprehension? Whatever the word, it is clear that for Mateo this “devil” is not the Christian embodiment of absolute evil, the enemy of God. The Catholic colonizers, who could not accept any system of religious beliefs other than their own, trans- formed any and all other deities into the devil. Jaime Humberto Borja Go´mez asserts that the devil was a “constitutive element of colonial culture” by which relationships between the colonizer and the Other were codified (1998, 20, my translation). Mateo resists such a characterization of his belief system when he tells that as a novitiate he pledged to this deity that he would do no harm to anyone, nor would he call off the rain or call on plagues to destroy crops. He gave his word to use his powers for good in a proclamation tested by ordeal and proven true. To emphasize this point, he closes his story reminding the inquisitors of the good he has accomplished with the esterilla, both in healing and by uncovering the misdeeds of others. Curiously, the symbolic watery death ordeal of his initiation shares a deep symbolic meaning with Christian baptism. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Have you forgotten that when we were baptized into union with Christ



Jesus we were baptized into his death? By baptism we were buried with him, and

lay dead, in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead in the splendour of the Father, so also we might set our feet upon the new path of life” (Romans

6 3–4, The New English Bible). Early Church fathers came to interpret the water

of baptism as representing this grave and the three baptismal submersions as symbolic of a three-day burial with Christ. 28 In the Christian ritual of baptism,

the body’s submersion into and emergence from the water serves as a sign of salvation that separates out those who worship good/God from those who reject God and worship evil or the devil. In Mateo’s initiation as a healer, he faces death in a watery submersion. His submerged body is marked as good and separated out from the evil as in a Christian baptism. It may or may not be a stretch to think that Mateo’s own Christian baptism somehow influenced his choice of symbolism in the initiation ritual he relates. Even so, it proved an indecipherable or unacceptable sign for the inquisitors. The inquisitors represented the dominant group that lived a constant tension between its desperate need for slaves on the one hand—to build infrastructure, extract riches, grow food, subdue Indians, chase away pirates and care for their houses and children—and, on the other, its deep-rooted fear of slave rebellion. Cartagena was particularly vulnerable to slave violence, so close was it to the preferred areas where runaways built free societies from which they attacked Spaniards (Arrazola 1970; Borrego Pla 1973). That the Inquisition might seek the political, rather than spiritual, end of suppressing slaves under the guise of protecting the faith was not new. The Holy Office in its New World inception had arbitrated political feuds between rival conquistador groups and religious factions in New Spain (Greenleaf 1969, ch. 1 and 2). As Borja Go´mez tell us, the devil became a mechanism of control over those groups who distanced themselves from Christian norms (Borja Go´mez 1998, 20). The Inquisition played a prime role in developing this mechanism of control when it punished slaves for a pact with the devil in order to create a public spectacle of punishment and strike fear into the hearts of those whom they themselves feared.


The story that Mateo wove failed to save him from being convicted and sentenced. On 6 July 1652, four clergy members were brought in to examine the case. The four agreed unanimously that the accused had made an explicit pact with the devil, while two members of the group added that he was also suspect for his use of holy words and the sign of the cross (Cartagena, Libro 1021, fol. 341v). On 22 July 1654, almost three years after his arrest, Mateo’s sentence was proclaimed in a public auto de fe in which he was made to pronounce the abjuracio´n de levi and he received 200 lashes of the whip. He was then to serve the convent of Santo Domingo for ten years in order that to be correctly instructed in the faith (fol. 320r). The sentence was neither as harsh nor as lenient as it could have been. Already a slave, the ten-year service in Santo Domingo may have made little difference to Mateo’s freedom for self-determi- nation. The directive that he was to be taught in the faith by members of the Order of Preachers and upholders of orthodoxy indicates that the inquisitors saw




in Mateo not an intractably evil enemy, follower of a diabolical sect, but a malleable Other. Mateo Arara´ may have tried to work out in his story such a flexible religious subjectivity as he hoped the inquisitors would accept after his initial tactic of feigning orthodoxy failed. He was born into a culture whose religion embraced an attitude of flexibility towards the religious beliefs of other groups. Perhaps he had also encountered African slaves evangelized before their transport to the New World, whose beliefs were already an African–Catholic syncretism. 29 Nevertheless, the narrative subjectivity he forged overran the boundaries of Catholic flexibility, perhaps primarily because of the power he asserted for himself in invoking the supernatural. If Mateo Arara´ failed to protect his individual subjectivity from punishment, on a collective level, it was the Inquisition—together with the missionary endeavors of baptism and con- fession—that ultimately failed to suppress African, Amerindian and syncretic religious practices. 30 Perhaps in providing this arena in which the accused learned to negotiate colonial disciplinary power, the Inquisition itself facilitated a transculturation process that took place in the Other’s weaving of a story of self out of the beliefs, cultural practices and experiences of Catholicism, casta society and African origins.


1 As evidenced in the reports transcribed by Splendiani and colleagues (1997), Spanish colonial slave authorities often gave first-generation African slaves the name of their ethnicity or port of departure as a last name. Oscar Grandı´o Mora´guez (2000) discusses the parallel situation in Cuba. Footnote 14, below, discusses Mateo’s probable geographic origin in what is today Benin.

2 See also McKnight (1999). The number of scholars working in this area is still small, but growing. Examples of such focus on Afro-colonial discourse includes work by Margaret M. Olsen (1998a; 1998b), Rene´e Soulodre-La France (2001) and presentations by Jose´ Ramo´n Jouve Martı´n and Marı´a Eugenia Chaves on Afro-Hispanic representation at the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association in 2001.

3 There are numerous studies of African slave resistance in the New World. For a discussion of the history of slave resistance in the Nuevo Reino de Granada, see, for example, Borrego Pla (1973) and Arrazola (1970).

4 Sandoval’s work includes a description of the variety of African cultures present among the slaves, their miserable plight in slavery and a guidebook for priests who carried out evangeliza- tion among slaves. See Olsen (1998b) for a discussion of Sandoval’s representation of blackness, Afro-Americans and the Jesuit mission.

5 See, for example, the cases of Luis Andrea, a mestizo (Cartagena, Libro 1020, fols. 3, 19), Angelina de Nava, a free black woman from Guinea (fols. 327r–29r), Ana Marı´a, a Caravalı´ slave (fols. 329r–31r) and Barbara Go´mez, a black woman from Lisbon (fols. 331r–36).

6 See Greenleaf (1969, ch. 1 and 2). Klor de Alva states that “although its ostensible function was to safeguard the orthodoxy of the faith, the Holy Office was recognized to be and constantly was used as an important tool for social and political control since its founding in the thirteenth century” (1991, 8).

7 Although the representation of race is very complex, the terms mulato, mestizo and zambo applied generally to the offspring of Spanish and African parents, Spanish and Indian parents and Indian and African parents, respectively. In 1571, Felipe II decreed that Indians no longer were to be tried by the Inquisition. J. Jorge Klor de Alva (1991) argues that the function of disciplining the great masses of indigenous Mexicans was taken up more effectively and efficiently by the missionary activities of baptism, sermonizing and, especially, confession.



8 Splendiani et al. show 58 percent of those prosecuted to be white, 4 percent mestizo and 9 percent not identified by race.

9 Diana Luz Ceballos Go´ mez (1994) provides an excellent discussion of hechicerı´a and brujerı´a in the Nuevo Reino de Granada and, particularly, of how the image of the European witches’ sabbath became superimposed onto popular African rituals in the inquisitors’ minds; Virginia Gutie´rrez de Pineda and Patricia Vila de Pineda (1985) study in detail the Spanish, Amerindian and African popular religious healing practices that were often attacked by the Inquisition; Carlo Ginzburg (1991) develops a theory of how the image of the witches’ sabbath developed in an interaction between pagan rituals and theological and inquisitorial activity in late medieval and early modern Europe; his discussion is very relevant to understanding the related dynamic in the Nuevo Reino de Granada.

10 Both terms refer to someone who makes and applies herbs and herbal infusions. Often, the person is a healer or uses herbal potions together with spells in a shamanistic activity. In the Arara´ case, the term yerbatero appears to signify a malicious use of herbal magic.

11 The online version of the Cartagena journal El Universal tells that an Augustinian convent was founded on the Cerro de la Popa in 1607 in order to expel Buziraco, the image of the macho cabrı´o worshipped there by Indians. The webpage of the Cartagena de Indias Convention & Visitors Bureau titled “Sitios de Intere´s Histo´rico” tells that according to legend the first prior of the Augustinian convent threw the devil, in the form of a male goat or macho cabrı´o, off the hill and that this devil, Buciraco, was worshipped by blacks.

12 In addition to leading non-Catholic religious rituals on the Cerro de la Popa, Luis Andrea testified that Buciraco told him not to cure Spaniards and that an older Indian, instrumental in his initiation rites, also instructed him not to confess his activities to Spanish priests (Cartagena Inquisition, Libro 1020, fols. 19r–24r). In the notorious trials of supposed brujas and brujos in the 1630s, the Cartagena Inquisition prosecuted a number of well-known yerbateros from the Getsemanı´a area near Cartagena (Ceballos Go´ mez 1994, 140). One of these women, Paula de Eguiluz, was so well known as a me´dica that even after her incarceration, she was ocassionally allowed out of the jail to heal patients, who included the inquisitors themselves and the bishop Fray Cristo´bal de Laza´rraga (Medina 1978, 115, n. 1). So far, records do not indicate any similar popularity on Mateo’s part, but perhaps the inquisitors feared such acclaim for this herbalist.

13 There are six procesos of Afro-Americans living in the Nuevo Reino de Granada that were sent from Cartagena to Spain and that are now preserved in the Archivo Histo´rico Nacional. They pertain to the trials of Pedro de Angola, for beating another slave (1627, Inquisicio´n, Legajo 1616); the three trials of a free black woman named Paula Eguiluz (1632, 1635, 1636) and that of Diego Lo´pez Melgar, a mulato cirujano (surgeon) (1634), both accused of being witches, both of whom eventually produce confessions that respond to the European image of the witches’ sabbath (Inquisicio´n, Legajo 1020); a proceso for Sebastia´n Bran for Judaism and for taking food to his master who was imprisoned for the same crime (1650) (Inquisicio´n, Legajo 1620) and a proceso for Fe´lix Fernando Martı´nez, a fugitive slave, accused of the sacrilege of robbing a monstrance and its consecrated host (1777) (Inquisicio´n, Legajo 1623). Diana Luz Ceballos Go´ mez has found rich documentation on hechicerı´a and brujerı´a in civil court records in the Archivo Nacional de Colombia and the Archivo Histo´ rico de Antioquı´a, pointing out other important sources for such narrative self-definition by Afro-Colombians during the colonial period. She asserts that the civil courts often occuppied themselves with brujerı´a and hechicerı´a for the purpose of social control (1994, 95).

14 Grandı´o Mora´guez (2000) discusses the complex problems of origin and ethnicity among those called “Arara´” in Cuba. Firstly, an ethnic name was often given to a slave according to port of departure, rather than his or her birthplace. Secondly, modern researchers disagree on the exact identification of the geographic origin of those called Arara´ in the New World, an identification confused by orthographic inconsistencies in the period. Many scholars associate the word “Arara´” with “Allada”, the name of a city and kingdom, while others disagree. Finally, in Cuba cabildos or African cultural organizations brought together various Fon-speaking ethnicities under the same denomination; thus some of those called Arara´ have received the name through cabildo association rather than origin. Identifying the origin of slaves called “Arara´” in the Nuevo Reino de Granada may present similar problems.




15 Zambaje on the Rı´o Magdalena was the result of unions between escaped slaves and indigenous women, in an area where the labor demanded in the tribute system decimated the male Amerindian population. See Pen˜as Galindo (1988) for a discussion of zambaje in this region, specifically related to the occupation of the boga, the moving of boats up and down the Rı´o Magdalena by the exhausting work of a crew equipped with long poles.

16 That a slave in the Nuevo Reino de Granada might have learned the basic Catholic doctrines without having learned Spanish is not surprising. John Thornton discusses the catechistic sessions led by Pedro Claver among African slaves in Cartagena, which the Jesuit carried out almost immediately after the slaves disembarked. The slaves were divided by languages into groups of ten, to each of which was assigned a catechist-interpreter of their own nationality, someone who had likely been trained by Claver. The instruction involved both explanations by the African catechists and their translation of messages given by Claver (1988, 271–72).

17 The documents refer to this tool variously as an esterilla and esterita, words that indicate a mat-like object of woven grasses, and escobita and escobilla, or “broom”, which seem more likely names given Mateo’s description of the way the two “arms” of palm fronds moved away from and towards each other.

18 The rituals Mateo Arara´ describes do not match any of those detailed by Virigina Gutie´rrez de Pineda and Patricia Vila de Pineda (1985) in their study of Colombian Indian practices during the colonial period, though their general shamanic principles are similar.

19 Feraudy Espino lists as instruments of divination the ikin, a set of 16 sacred palm nuts, the opele or chain on which opele seeds are strung, the ibo´, consisting of cowrie shells and sacred bones, and the orobı´ or irafa, a wooden or ivory stick. Each of these instruments is tossed or dropped on a flat surface or marked board and its position is interpreted by the diviner (Feraudy Espino 1993, 170–72).

20 See Marı´a Helena Sa´nchez Ortega’s discussion of the prosecution of Spanish men and women for misusing Catholic liturgy and the names of God and the saints in practices of love magic (1991, 59).

21 Ortiz refers to an African tradition of priestly oligarchies in which the vocation and position are inherited from father to son (1973, 121). Recall that the mestizo Luis Andrea also inherited his powers as moha´n from his uncle. According to Fernando Ortiz, Cuban brujos in the mid twentieth century still enjoyed the community respect that results from a perception of their almost omnipotent character and their superior knowledge (Ortiz 1973, 126).

22 See Ortiz (1973), Herskovits and Herskovits (1933), Verger (1995), Feraudy Espino (1993) and Zuesse (1979, 135–65).

23 Feraudy Espino states that the training of Yoruba babalawos commonly begins when the candidate is between the ages of seven and twelve (Feraudy Espino 1993, 139).

24 The initiation ritual for Dahomean vodonsi or priests incorporates a ceremony in which the novitiates draw water from a symbolic river of earthenware pots (Herskovits and Herskovits 1933, 42). In the Yoruba religion the river deity Osu´n represents both fertility and the wisdom of the forests which can heal with fresh waters where medicine fails (Feraudy Espino 1993, 190). Both examples appear removed from the ritual Mateo described. The name he gives the river separates it further from his homeland. At the time of his trial, Christianity was just arriving in the state of Allada, the probable location of his initiation story (Thornton 1988, 274–75), thus it is unlikely that a Christian saint’s name would already grace a body of water there.

25 The editors of the document identify Morocı´ as being in the vicinity of Mompox (Splendiani et al. 1997, 4 61, v.s. ´ındice onoma´tico “Juan Abad”), though I have not found such a name on detailed modern maps of the area (scale 1 100,000).

26 See Museo de Oro (2001).

27 Gutie´rrez de Pineda and Vila de Pineda cite Pedro Simo´n’s discussion of how the Colombian shamans were thought to control natural elements (1985, 16).

28 See for example St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s second lecture on the mysteries, paragraph 4 (1970,


29 When Portuguese missionaries brought Christianity to Central Africa at the end of the fifteenth century they were quite tolerant of syncretism (Thornton 1988, 266). Later, in Africa, the Spanish would also show such tolerance. The Spanish Capuchin missionaries to Allada in the



second half of the seventeenth century brought a catechism prepared in Fon in Spain, which “allows the generic Fon word for god, ‘Vodu’ […] to be identified with the Christian God, and more importantly, allows the term ‘Lisa’ to be used to refer to Jesus Christ” (Thornton 1988, 267). This linguistic practice allowed the Allada concepts to remain functional behind the references to their Christian counterparts. In the catechism, for the lines of the “Ave Marı´a” which in Spanish are “Santa Marı´a, Madre de Dios” the Arda catechism reads “Santa Marı´a, nague e Vodu” (emphasis mine). The credo reads, “Midiq, Vodu, mitome nu popo, Tol, agai, afene, Lifa, vito, depo …” for “Creo en Dios Padre todo poderofo, Criador del Cielo, y de la tierra, y en IefuChrifto su vnico Hijo” (emphasis mine); see Doctrina Christiana … (1658). 30 Perhaps the space of the Inquisition trial also offered Mateo Arara´ and other Afro-Hispanic slaves the opportunity to learn more clearly the rigidity of the colonizers’ religious beliefs and to better hone their strategies of dissimulation in order to preserve and protect their religious beliefs and practices. If his sentence was sufficiently harsh, it could not cut Mateo Arara´ off from those communities in which he might have continued to use and teach his special gifts, with much greater caution now, sharing a new and painfully learned knowledge of how to survive under colonial domination.


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